The 3 Tenori-On MP3s (O’Rourke, Atom Heart, Lippock)

It’s no doubt in poor taste to make a Three Tenors joke the day after Luciano Pavarotti passed away. Sorry. In any case, the Tenori-On has, as of this writing, nearly 700 friends on Tenori-On is not a band or an individual. It’s a musical device, created by Toshio Iwai, best known for his groundbreaking Electroplankton sound-toy, or audio-game, cartridge for the Nintendo DS.

That’s a lot more friends than the number of participants (47) currently in the Tenori-On community at, one of many marketing initiatives that have elicited substantial press coverage to coincide with the device’s commercial release. There were also concerts earlier this week (in London and Manchester — the Tenori-On is for sale in the UK, but not yet in the US), a full on page at the website of Yamhaha (, which manufactures and distributes the machine. Plus proliferating videos at, and elsewhere. A wide range of experimental electroncists, early-adopter gadget-hounds, and general tech-art enthusiasts are drawing attention to this remarkable device, a disarmingly simple grid of 16 x 16 light-emitting, touch-sensitive buttons that Iwai describes as a “visual music” controller.

As part of the promotion, Yamaha and Iwai have solicited demo MP3s from various musicians — demos that prove even more enticing than the THX 1138-style images of Iwai’s snazzy device. “Jiwana” by Jim O’Rourke (Wilco, Sonic Youth) is a rhythmically circumspect bit of charging techno (MP3); its fast-paced beats seem to mirror the Tenori-On’s light-brigade interface. “Okinawa Pattern” by Atom Heart is a kind of mellow, futurist, calypso-infused exotica (MP3); at times he plays the Tenori-On as if it were a harp. Robert Lippock (To Rococo Rot) seems, admirably, the least inclined to create music that bears the imprint of the machine’s product design; his “Little Collector” is a surge of billowing waves of sound, like a hall-of-mirrors performance of some Philip Glass organ piece (MP3).

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